U of S researchers team up with government, academic, industry labs to improve access to malaria drugs

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE -April 11, 2013 2013-04-06 SASKATOON - U of S researchers are part of an international team of government, academic and industry scientists that has developed a new way to produce the key antimalarial drug artemisinin faster and more cheaply using baker's yeast.

"It's a great privilege to contribute on a project of this scale that takes us right from discovery to an application that can help people suffering from a life-threatening disease," said Patrick Covello, adjunct professor with the U of S Department of Biochemistry and senior research officer with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) in Saskatoon.
According to the World Health Organization, about half the world's population—3.3 billion people—are at risk of malaria. Of the more than 200 million cases in 2010, about 660,000 people died, mostly children under five years old in Africa.
The U of S team members—Covello, technician Michael Hepp, graduate student Devin Polichuk and NRC scientist Darwin Reed—contributed on the plant genetics and biochemistry side of the project, isolating two genes from sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua) that are involved in the production of artemisinin. The genes, together with one discovered by California-based company Amyris, were then inserted into a highly engineered yeast strain.
The research team, which includes nearly 50 members from the U.S. and Canada, is led by Amyris scientist Chris Paddon. Its work, published in the April 11 edition of Nature, describes their efficient way of producing artemisinic acid, a chemical precursor to artemisinin, using genetically engineered yeast.
Paddon explained Amyris donated the rights to its technology to be freely used for combating malaria. Pharmaceutical company Sanofi was chosen to manufacture the drug, and expects to produce enough for 70 million treatments this year, which scientists estimate could address one-quarter of the world's needs.
"The technology we developed with colleagues from the NRC will increase the availability of antimalarial treatments as well as lower the cost to millions of patients" Paddon said. "Artemisinin, sourced from the wormwood plant has been used for centuries in treating malaria, but its availability, cost and quality have been unpredictable."
For more information, contact:
Michael Robin
Research Communications Specialist
University of Saskatchewan
(306) 966-1425
Joel Velasco
Senior Vice President, Amyris, Inc.
+1 (510) 597-5577
NRC Media Relations
National Research Council of Canada
(613) 991-1431 (International)
(855) 282-1637 (Canada only)

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